An original editorial by Theresa S.
JK Rowling told us on her website
that September 19th is Hermione's birthday. In this sixth book, it will be her seventeenth birthday. This means not three weeks into the first term, our dear Hermione will come of age in the wizarding world. What will this mean for HBP?
We know that she, like Fred and George in their sixth year, will not be able to join the Order quite yet. Order members must be of age AND out of school. Two new privileges she will have are apparation and the use of magic outside of school. Neither of those is very useful at Hogwarts unfortunately. If Hermione has told us once, she's told us a thousand times, no one can apparate on school grounds.
Harry's birthday comes in the summer a month before school starts. In PS/SS he gets his letter announcing his acceptance to Hogwarts, then in a timely manner learns about the wizarding world, buys his school supplies, and gets on the Hogwarts Express. It flows naturally, so we don't consider until later what happens to children with birthdays that don't land during the summer months. I think Jo made Hermione's birthday a short time after the start of the school year to answer just that question. It is also possible that there is another reason Hermione was born when she was. Maybe is it important to the HBP storyline for at least one of the trio to be of age early in the school year.
The first time these new privileges can be used is the first Hogsmeade weekend. Hermione will have the ability to apparate out of Hogsmeade, do magic, and apparate back. But to do what?
The fall Hogsmeade weekend has been at a different time each book so far. In PoA, it is on Halloween; in GoF, it is the latest of the three, November 21st - the Saturday before the first Triwizard Tournament challenge. In OotP, it is the first weekend in October. If something important is to happen during the Hogsmeade weekend, I am guessing it may be on Halloween again. In Brandon Ford's The Official Reader's Guide to Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince, he summarizes the events of each book's Halloweens and concludes that "Halloween is always important in giving us a real glimpse at the foe of the book, who will reveal himself in some way".
I think this foe will show himself on the Hogsmeade weekend. He or she will either appear earlier in the book and Hermione will seek him/her out during her Hogsmeade opportunity, or she will apparate out of Hogsmeade for a different reason and will be confronted with this "foe". If it is to be someone we know of already, the most likely suspects are Umbridge or one of the DEs.
The most prominent DEs (minus Bellatrix) were locked up in Azkaban at the end of OotP. However, the Daily Prophet reported Fudge's statement of a "mass revolt of the dementors of Azkaban, who have shown themselves averse to the Ministry's employ. We believe the dementors are currently taking direction from Lord - Thingy"(845, OotP). This leads us to believe that even Malfoy and the rest won't stay locked up for long. Their cover has been blown and Voldemort has been restored to a body. There is no reason to wait now and I think we will start seeing some more action from the Death Eaters and Voldemort.
Halloween comes four months after the battle at the Department of Ministries. Voldemort probably will still not have heard the entire prophecy, but that is enough time for he and his cronies to form and implement a plan to get it from Trelawney, or decide to proceed without the full wording. Since the trio will have had at least minimal access to the goings on of the Order over the summer (and maybe updates during the school year from Fred and George), it is not inconceivable that they will overhear something and use the Hogsmeade weekend to attempt to thwart the Death Eaters' plan.
Umbridge recovers from the centaur incident by the end of OotP (healthy enough to run, in fact; being chased out of Hogwarts by Peeves). Even she cannot continue insisting Harry and Dumbledore have been lying since the Daily Prophet has reported Fudge retracting earlier statements and confirming the re-emergence of Voldemort. However, I can't see her fading into the background in embarrassment and keeping a low profile now that she has been proven wrong. Most likely, Fudge will not remain Minister for long into HBP. She backed Fudge wholeheartedly during the OotP; however, that was hardly a selfless move. She immensely enjoyed the power trip that support bought her.
Her reasons for supporting Fudge in the suppression of Voldemort's return aren't exactly clear to me. Either she genuinely believed the Daily Prophet and Fudge's statements that Dumbledore and Harry were loose cannons and were trying to scare the wizarding public with their lies, or she had her own reasons to keep Voldemort's return quiet. Voldemort never planned for Harry to escape that graveyard. He wanted to build up strength and an army in secret so that when he made his return public, he would be near as powerful as just before that night in Godric's Hollow. Fudge and his crew bought Voldemort almost a year of preparation because of their denial.
Umbridge doesn't like sitting around, complaining about situations gone wrong. She is a do-er. When she admitted sending the dementors after Harry in Little Whinging, she told Harry "Somebody had to act...They were all bleating about silencing you somehow - discrediting you - but I was the one who actually did something about it" (747, OotP). Things ended poorly for her in OotP, and I think she is going to take some action early in HBP. I do not, however, think her forceful suppression of Voldemort's return is indication that she is a Death Eater. She may sympathize with Voldemort and his pure race mentality, but I don't see the canon support of her joining his ranks.
Jo gave a lot of thought to the whole person of each of her characters. (Just look at how much information she says she has on secondary characters like Dean.) I think Hermione's birthday was chosen in the fall for a reason, and I think that reason will be apparent in this sixth book. The twins gained the ability of apparation during the summer, and so they got to use it a bit before starting school. Hermione will already be at school when she turns 17 (unless her age is recalculated because of the time traveling she did in PoA, but I think McGonagall will want to keep that secret), so I think she will be itching to use it and with the Hogsmeade weekend being her first opportunity, I can't see it being wasted.
Posted by: Nicole